An endangered species: Cuenca artisan family struggles to maintain a family tradition
Several months ago I introduced you to the Machado family of artisan coppersmiths. I marveled at the intricate workmanship and technical proficiency of their craft and I gushed on and on about the beauty of their work. I described the history of their artistic journey this way:
Marco Machado lived among the metal workers — a craft honed by his father and grandfather who supported their family by making keychains, incidentals, and “objects d’arts” in the combination gallery/studio/living room. The children would play while their father, Carlos, worked, helping as they could, and often holding their dad’s creations with the same reverence they held for him. It was a happy family.
Carlos Machado, the patriarch, would often put down his hammer or torch, pick up his guitar, and lead the whole family in songs learned by all as a right of passage. It was his fondest hope that at least one of his sons would follow in his footsteps, would carry on the family tradition. He would not be disappointed.
When Carlos’ son, Marco was a near-toddler, he would often spend the day in the home of a nearby family of weavers. As he recalls it, the weavers considered him far too young to replicate their workmanship, and certainly too young to understand the purpose and detail of their craft. Yet, as he played underfoot or sat quietly among them, he busily absorbed all that was before him and committed it to memory. When the right time came, Marco began blending what he learned as a child both at home and with the weavers; he started to weave copper. It has been his passion for over 30 years.
Now, in his 51st year, the patriarch can look with satisfaction on his body of work, and stand proudly in the light of this children’s accomplishments. His sons David and Pedro now express themselves in new styles of coppersmithing of their own design. The proud tradition in the Machado household is poised to continue well into the next generation.
Yet, all is not well. Marco laments the fact that in the last 20 years or so, the number of his contemporaries have diminished by almost 95%. Economic conditions in the early 2000’s forced nearly everyone he knew to leave Ecuador, searching for more favorable conditions overseas, or far north, most abandoning their craft for “a job.”
Marco estimates that only 5 percent of the coppersmithing families that he shared his childhood with are still actively pursuing the craft and working to pass their knowledge on to the next generation. When asked why he did not leave the country and the craft, his answer is immediate and determined. God directed him to stay and continue the visionary work established so many years before by this father and his father before him.
I asked Pepe what drives his passion for coppersmithing. He said,
“Cuenca is a cradle for artists and artisans. I want to integrate the cultural movement in our city and to blur the lines between artist and artisan. I want my family to arise as a family of artists crafting objects of beauty and inspiration that will inspire another generation just as my father and his work inspires me.”
David was more direct.
“My role as an artisan demands that I always do better. My craftsmanship is a tradition that has shaped my family for generations. It defines who we are.”
Cuenca has a well deserved international reputation for fine art, artists, artisans, and art lovers who have been drawn to here for to observe the work of great talent and to gain inspiration in an environment rich in texture and color. “It defines who we are,” David says.
It is imperative that we listen carefully to the voices of the past and preserve the atmosphere and opportunities for the future. Marco’s concern that the community he grew up in is becoming obsolete, need not come true. However, it is time to turn the tide and to responsibly assist in the preservation of the old artistic traditions and encourage innovation for the future.
Caring for local artists and artisans in Cuenca is easy because they have already done the difficult work of creating great works of beauty.
Our job is simply to support them.
The Machado family is opening a gallery next week on Simon Bolivar, opposite Parque Calderon.